De’Andre Hunter: Role

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Strengths

  • Solid on-ball defender, can be the primary defender against 3.5 positions

  • An extremely switchable defender

  • Excellent IQ and defensive awareness, one of the best team defenders in the class

  • Well-rounded offensive player

Weaknesses

  • Outside shooting is a question mark due to limited sample

  • Struggles to defend explosive wings; slow hip switches

  • Limited as a passer, especially moving toward the basket

  • Does not have one overwhelming strength on offense

  • Not a vertically explosive athlete

Offensive Role at Virginia

Hunter is a key cog in Virginia’s egalitarian offense. He has a usage of 23 percent, primarily feeding on spot-ups and isolations, getting much of his scoring within the flow of UVA’s offense. When the offense breaks down, Hunter is often relied upon to create in isolation, both as a mid-range shooter and attacking the basket. He also posts up fairly often in UVA’s offense, averaging nearly 1.1 points per possession (92nd percentile among NCAA players). Despite being heavily featured within the offense, his assist rate is somewhat lacking at 15 percent, though he does move the ball well as a part of the overall offense.

Offensive Role Projection -

Floor spacer, off-ball threat

Hunter’s primary appeal on offense will be as a spot-up shooter and relocator who can aggressively attack closeouts and warped defenses. He has already displayed a healthy understanding and ability to do these things while still in the NCAA and should translate a scaled-down version of his game to the NBA relatively early on. He has averaged just over 1.2 points per possession in spot up situations this season. He has a knack for relocating along the perimeter in order to set up spot-up opportunities for himself. While he has not shot a ton of threes during his college career, his free throw percentage and small three-point sample, as well as his clean mechanics, suggest he is a solid bet to stretch out to an NBA level.

Where Hunter can truly excel is attacking closeouts off the dribble. He has a solid handle for a wing and has flashed a nice left-to-right crossover attacking the basket, usually sweeping from the top of the key toward his dominant hand. Despite not being the most explosive player he finishes well at the rim using his large frame to create space and the rim to shield himself from shot blockers. While he isn't the most dynamic passer (rarely passing teammates open), he does a good job moving the ball within the system and generally makes good decisions.

Defensive Role at Virginia

While Hunter projects as one of the most versatile and switchable defenders in the 2019 class, his talents have been largely kept in reserve playing in UVA’s pack line defense. Under Tony Bennett, Virginia has managed to manufacture quality NBA talent, but assessing their impact at the next level is more challenging than with some more pro-style teams. Virginia tends to emphasize playing fundamental defense without leaving your feet or fouling, which is often used to explain its prospects low steal and block rates. The difficulty with evaluating players in this setting is determining what is a product of the system and what is a product of the player.

Hunter has acquitted himself nicely as a player who can take on a multitude of roles, but hasn’t been overly impressive on the stat sheet. He tends to guard the primary point of attack, though against more threatening match ups (like Duke’s R.J. Barrett), he has taken on a more NBA-like role while shadowing his man around the court. His rebounding numbers are lower than they should be for a player his size, but he spends much of his time 15+ feet from the rim guarding primary initiation. At times he can struggle navigating ball-screens, as he does not have the most mobile hips.

Off the ball, Hunter and UVA’s other perimeter players sink into the driving lanes to prevent middle penetration. He positions himself smartly and excels at recovering back to his assignment after helping on drives. While the pack line discourages gambling, his own weaknesses may explain why his block and steal rates are relatively low. He does not pursue defensive rebounds aggressively, nor does he have true explosiveness to be an impactful rim protector. But as with nearly everything in the NBA Draft, context matters. While he doesn’t wow anyone on the box score, he tends to make a high-level impact for his team on the defensive end.

Defensive Role Projection -

Point-of-attack, switchable

His draft stock leans heavily on his defensive versatility. At 6’8” tall, 227 lb and a 7’2” wingspan he has the frame to guard most wings and forwards, and even switch onto bigs for short stretches. His ability to switch across at least three positions will give his team lineup flexibility, an important contribution in the increasingly positionless NBA. He can play in big or small lineups and can take the more difficult wing match up, allowing his team to hide a more offense-oriented wing. His smart footwork and size allow him to deny penetration while still containing and contesting along the perimeter. He will likely have more success guarding bigger wings, as he can sometimes struggle to move his hips against shiftier players. Away from the ball, Hunter positions himself intelligently and is rarely caught ball-watching. One noteworthy caveat to his value is the lack of high impact defensive plays, something teams look for with defensive specialists. UVA's pack line defense emphasizes intelligent rotation and contesting without fouling, leading to a reserved but effective contribution to team defense. He has the tools (good defensive IQ, solid anticipation, strong hands) to generate steals, however his lack of explosiveness likely points to him never becoming a shot blocking threat.

Why Hunter Will Earn Minutes as a Rookie

Every good NBA team needs high-level, two-way role players. Teams built around high usage stars need players who can make an impact in low usage, high-efficiency roles. This need is particularly crucial on the wing, given that the supply of big wings who can both defend and contribute on offense is so low. Hunter’s skill set epitomizes this in-demand archetype. His ability to defend multiple positions while being able to shoot and attack closeouts will earn him minutes in the NBA. A good precedent for him is OG Anunoby, whose combination of smothering perimeter defense and passable shooting earned him big minutes in the playoffs his rookie year. It is simply hard to find high-end complementary players who can elevate their team. If his offense translates to the NBA, it will be hard to keep him off the floor.

Why Hunter’s Minutes May Be Limited as a Rookie

If anything keeps Hunter off the floor in the NBA, it will be his offense. Without any outstanding strengths he may find it difficult to break into the rotation, particularly if he struggles while transitioning to the NBA 3-point line. His ball-handling, passing, and shooting all rate from average to good for his position but he might not be strong enough at any one of them to actually make a positive impact. While it is reasonable to be confident about his outside shot (an increasingly necessary skill for role players), he has not shot a tremendous amount of threes while playing in the NCAA. Although his efficiency is solid (42 percent career-to-date), volume can be a better indicator of ability than accuracy at the college level. If Hunter is unable to connect behind the arc at a respectable rate, defenses will be able to help off him and cut off driving lanes for his teammates. While he will likely be solid on defense in the NBA, he may not reach the elite tier of wing defenders because he is not as disruptive off-ball as Paul George or Robert Covington. The best defensive players are impactful help defenders who generate extra possessions for their team, and the jury is still out on his ability to make impact plays. In such a case where his outside shot is shaky, being merely solid on defense may not be enough.